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UMass field hockey aims to win third straight A10 championship

(Jessica Picard/ Daily Collegian)

The Atlantic 10 field hockey tournament begins Friday at Gladchuk Field as the Massachusetts field hockey team squares off against Virginia Commonwealth in the semifinal round.

UMass (12-7, 6-2 A-10) has won the tournament two years in a row and the Minutewomen will host the tournament this year for the first time since 2013.

“We haven’t been home since my freshman year of college, and that’s huge,” UMass starting goalkeeper Emily Hazard, who is a redshirt senior, said. “We love playing on our own field, we love having good competition on our own field and it’s been a while since we’ve won here. It’s really exciting for us.”

The Minutewomen are the tournament’s second seed and will begin against VCU on Friday. If they advance to the championship game, they will face either Saint Joseph’s or Richmond.

In the regular season, UMass faced all three of the tournament entrants, defeating VCU 4-2 Oct. 6 and Richmond but fell to Saint Joseph’s 5-2 on Oct. 20.

“St. Joe’s, that was a game for us that we were really frustrated with the outcome, knowing that we dominated them in the first half,” Hazard said. “So for us that’s a bit exciting, knowing that we can beat them and absolutely dominate them. The other two teams, it’s a matter of ‘we’ve done it before, we just have to do it again.’”

The loss to Saint Joseph’s spotlighted the Minutewomen’s struggles against defensive pressure. Coach Barb Weinberg said that beating defensive pressure was a focal point in the lead-up to the tournament.

“We’ve been working on goal scoring under pressure all week long,” Weinberg said. “Hopefully, we’ve created that pressure in practice, so that when the defense is really tight on us this weekend, we’ll be able to convert.”

UMass clinched entry into the tournament two days after the game against Saint Joseph’s, despite being in the midst of a three-game losing streak, but ended the season on a high note with a 2-1 win over Richmond on Oct. 27.

“It’s good momentum going forward,” senior forward Nicole Kuerzi said of the Richmond game. “We weren’t playing our best day, we still had them, and if we both play our best day, we’ll have them again.”

Home field advantage could be a factor for the Minutewomen, who finished the year 8-2 at Gladchuk Field but just 4-5 on the road.

Even at home, the UMass attack has struggled to convert opportunities. In Friday’s win over Richmond, the Minutewomen took 22 shots but only came away with two goals. The defense held tight to come away with the win.

“We’ve dropped the ball a little bit on our attack lately,” Hazard said, “but the good thing is that we know we can score and it’s just a matter of getting that back. Otherwise, our defense has been really good the past few weeks and we’re looking to build on that going into this weekend.”

Last year, UMass won the A-10 tournament and advanced all the way to the second round of the NCAA tournament. This year, the Minutewomen bring in a balance of young talent and experience that gives them confidence.

“We’re definitely a younger team,” Kuerzi said. “We were a younger team my freshman year. But we definitely bring the experience with us. The juniors on our team have won an A-10 championship every single time, and the seniors on the team know what it’s like to lose an A-10 championship. I think it’s a good combination of people being extremely excited and not knowing what to expect, and the seniors on the team knowing exactly what to expect on both ends of it.”

The game against VCU on Friday will begin at 2 p.m. If UMass wins, they will advance to the championship game at 2 p.m. on Saturday against the winner of either Saint Joseph’s or Richmond.

When asked who the team would rather face, Kuerzi said, “Doesn’t matter. We’ll beat them both.”

Thomas Haines can be reached at thaines@umass.edu.

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